Annapolis Film Festival '16: "Pervert Park" Review

Film can be a powerful tool. It can serve as a conversation starter, and allow you to experience something without having to get your hands dirty. Pervert Park has to be the darkest, most disturbing film coming out of the Annapolis Film Festival this year, and probably one of the bravest choices by its’ programming committee. Someone saw the opportunity to use film as a conduit to a conversation on a generally rarely talked about topic and let the viewer come to their own conclusions about it. 

Pervert Park captures the stories of select individuals that live in Florida Justice Transitions, a trailer park in St. Petersburg, Florida. In Florida, sex-predator laws are in place where offenders can not live within 1,000 feet of places where children regularly assemble. Sexual offenders are looked at as the lowest of society, but they all have a story. Directors Frida and Lasse Barkfors capture the stories of park residents with no cinematic flare, just straight shooting and following.

The stand out story in the doc is that of Tracy Hutchinson, who was abused by her father as early as second grade. By the age of 11 she had already had an abortion,  and years later she seduced her own son, who later molested a 3 year old boy. Hearing Tracy confess about taking her son’s trust and dismantling it by sexually abusing him is absolutely heart wrenching. The guilt, shame, and deep regret is so apparent that it’s hard not to get emotional yourself. It’s clear that a life of abuse had adverse affects on her, but her vulnerability in being honest and apologetic can be felt on a gut level.

While everyone in the film seems to take ownership of their crimes, they also seem to rationalize them with twisted logic. If there is one thing that is clear from the film, it’s that getting help and being open about abuse is a necessary resource. Many of the individuals in the film kept their past pain buried inside and hidden from society, which in their particular stories manifested into sexual offenses. It shows how much counseling can play a key role in an attempt to transform and unlearn behavior.

Watching the film is an absolute test in self control, staying in your seat and sitting through it. (Plenty of people walked out of the screening.)There is no way of getting around the fact that it is a disturbing documentary on a soul level. The filmmakers obviously worked to keep a balance of letting you hear the horror, and then changing the tone to something that humanizes the offenders. Most people won’t view a documentary like this, but for those who can stomach it, it examines and challenges how and why we should deal with the taboo issue. 

Rating: B-

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"The Clan" Review: A Detached Family Portrait

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In a modern day and time where social media allows you to be whoever you want to be publicly, but totally different behind closed doors, The Clan tells the true story of a family who mastered that art in the late 1970s in Argentina. While outwardly, this family seemed to have it all, inwardly the patriarch led his sons in kidnapping the wealthy for large ransoms. What may be even more ghastly is that the victims were kept in the house with the rest of the family.

Arquimedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella) is a shop owner and father of five. His son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) is a star rugby player on the Pumas. Even though Alex has promise with rugby, his father wants him to help with the family business, both of them. While Alejandro is internally torn, he carries out his father’s wishes, working in the shop and helping to kidnap those his father has marked.

The longer you watch, the more enthralled you become with the story of obvious detachment of Arquimedes’ morality, Alejandro’s internal conflict as he loses his own, and who else in the family is complicit in what’s happening. In fact, part of the intrigue is the vague understanding of who amongst the Puccio family knows what’s going on. You think that they all have to know what’s going on, but it’s never quite clear. As the film moves forward, more layers are revealed that solidify the eeriness of a family that seems to be free under the house of their father/husband but chained to his unspoken regime.

Francella is stellar as Arquimedes. His unassuming look and polite demeanor in an aged body, make his performance that much more powerful and intrinsically scary. You can tell that he did the pre-production work to come to grips with how his character lived with himself at the end of the day and justified his actions internally. Kidnapping in one scene and loving his family in the next is as natural as breathing.

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Director Pablo Trapero is very comfortable with the relationship between his camera and cast. He knows when to move the camera and when to keep a still frame, striking a sweet balance that leads to a beautiful dance of blocking. Trapero’s controlled yet visually eloquent camera brilliantly mirrors the controlled and calculated efforts of Arquimedes. He allows the viewer the freedom to choose where to look, while still manipulating the frame.

Where The Clan succeeds is in its ability to tell a dramatic and horrifying tale, without being cinematically dramatic. From the soundtrack choice (songs like “Just a Gigolo” during a kidnapping scene) to the strong internal performances by the cast, the movie heightens its intensity by not being intense. It certainly will remind you of the question, how well do you really know your neighbor?

The Clan opens Friday March 25 in DC.

Rating: B+

 

 

 

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

DCIFF '16: "Driving While Black" Review

If “Crash” had the slight edge of a stoner film it would be “Driving While Black”. The film blends comedy with the serious and timely subject of racial profiling and police brutality flawlessly. What makes “Driving While Black” so enjoyable is it makes its points without proselytizing. At its heart, the movie is about the ups and downs of a flawed individual trying to make ends meet while pursuing his passion. Dealing with the police just happens to be a part of the story woven into his daily life. In many cases we see play out in the news, I think this is what makes police brutality so appalling and the film so relevant.  

Set to the sounds of hip-hop and the visual background of LA streets both seen and unseen in films, “Driving While Black” is a guaranteed conversation starter. Writer/star Dominique Purdy is Dimitri, a pizza delivery guy trying to make it as an artist in LA. He’s had his fair share of discriminatory run-ins with the police in his lifetime, which has left a distrustful taste in his mouth as evidenced through flashbacks in the movie. After his car breaks down giving him some time to take a tour of celebrity homes in LA, Dimitri has an opportunity to get a better job as a star maps guide. Each time he makes an attempt, something comes up that keeps him from the interview, and it’s usually the police.

The film also works at portraying a balance of both sides of the coin. Simultaneously throughout the film we are able to see the inner workings of a local police unit comprised of ethnically diverse cops that weave in and out of Dimitri’s storyline. The workplace banter amongst the cops is filled with realism that brings them down to a “next door neighbor” type of vibe that is relatable. From Officer Borty-Lio (Sheila Tejada) trying to get promoted to provide for her family in a squad full of men, to the bad apple Officer McVitie (Peter Cilella) whose past demons have created an over-aggressive monster behind a badge, the film does a good job of developing all characters involved on both sides of the issue.

“Driving While Black” doesn’t sugar coat its character’s decisions either. In one scene, Dimitri is pulled over with a friend who has been driving while high on marijuana, and in another a friend has a gun in the car. It almost makes you question Dimitri’s choice in friends, but these are real life examples that show we all aren’t perfect.  It’s a great mixture of ingredients that help to allow the viewer to decide what’s right and wrong in the situation.

Director Paul Sapiano does a great job of pacing the film out and allowing the film to disarm you with its comedy.  But when the film gets serious, it’s hair-raising.  It’s the situation that black men prepare themselves and their sons for. It’s the type of situation that every move and word counts if you want to go home that night. It’s exactly what makes the film a great display and analysis of the subject matter that will have you talking after the lights come up.

“Driving While Black” takes a comedic approach to a controversy that has become all too common these days. Sometimes comedy is the best medicine. Hopefully, it can serve as another resource to open the door to conversation about this troubling issue in America.

Rating: B+

“Driving While Black” screens at the DC Independent Film Festival Friday March 11, 2016.

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Until 20" Review

Childhood cancer is one of those topics that I believe we don’t want to address as a society. Numbers don’t lie; only 4% of the budget of the National Cancer Institute goes to pediatric cancer research. As long as it doesn’t affect us personally, by those numbers, sadly it seems we’d rather keep living our lives with no regard to the issue, myself included. Perhaps it’s because we’d be faced with our own mortality, our children’s, or because to be honest, it’s somber. So when it comes to a movie, why would you want to watch one about childhood cancer? Keep reading and I’ll tell you!

James Ragan was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 13. When we first meet him, he’s bald, skinny from treatments, and way stronger than most of us. He’s viewing the latest results from a scan with his doctor and family. He tells the doctor that he’d like to “preserve a little bit of quality for when we’ve sorta kicked the can as far as we can kick it so to speak.”  It’s this statement and James’ strength in the face of a doctor telling him that without further treatment he has six months to live- within the first five minutes of the film- that engages you to want to see and learn more about James and his journey.

What “Until 20” provides is a pure look into a young man and his family’s life as they’re going through it.  There’s no doubt that when the film picks up James has already been through the fire, and his strength and resolve to help other pediatric cancer patients is inspiring. James created the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation in 2007 as a way to raise money and awareness to the cause. Throughout the film it’s obvious that because life isn’t promised to him, he lives his to the fullest, enriching and encouraging the lives of those around him.

Typically in a film like this you expect to focus on how awesome the main character is, and hear from people who will testify to it. While that is a part of the film, you slowly get to know the people surrounding James, pulling you into his family and village of loved ones. Whether it’s his mother Gloria, who is trying to keep it together and be there for her son, while simultaneously missing out on being present for her daughter because of it. Or his sister Mecklin, who loves her brother with all her heart, and yet sacrifices attention and love from her parents at times because her brother needs it more. The doctor, who has to tell James (and one would assume other cancer patients) the bad news, while also viewing him as someone that he hopes his sons will grow up to be like. The list goes on, but the evidence of how cancer’s effects ripple out to those surrounding James is apparent.  Yet, a constant sense of love and resilience comes through in every frame. That’s what makes the film powerful.

Another thing that stands out about “Until 20” is the stylistic shot choices and poetic technical nature of the film. One would usually expect a film of this theme to be run and gun, with not much thought into the shooting style outside of capturing the events. While a couple of times the style choice feels a little too much (some scenes in which an interviewee is emotional and the camera continues to dolly side to side), it is aesthetically beautiful. The time and care given to the film by directors Geraldine Moriba-Meadows and Jamila Paksima is evident in the film’s construction from production value to the way the story is laid out. As I watched, I couldn’t help but feel like the Ragan family came together and agreed to tell their story, unfiltered, as a unit, and that James wanted to document his journey for the world to see. Faced with that responsibility, Meadows and Paksima stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.

Sitting through “Until 20” is in no way a walk in the park. It’s unsettling at times, causes you to put your own life in proper perspective, and has its Kleenex moments. Grounded in the reality of life, the film puts a face to childhood cancer and allows you to experience the love, trials, and pain that a family affected by cancer must endure.  At the same time it’s uplifting and beautiful! It's cliche to say, but the film is truly more about living your life and embracing each moment. The love that the Ragan family has for one another is undeniable. I couldn’t help but think that the film is exactly what James wanted.  While our lives are but a mist, film is forever, and with this film his message lives on and speaks to the heart of a viewer in ways that a speech never could! Hopefully with this film, one family’s loss is the world’s gain, as it inspires us to get involved in some small or large way.

You can learn more at http://triumphoverkidcancer.org/.

Visit http://until20.com/ to find out more about the film and future screenings.

Rating: A+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Playin' For Love" Review

“Playin’ For Love” is text book indie flick predictable storytelling. It’s filled with unknown actors, sprinkled with familiar faces, and occasional cringeworthy dialogue. In fact, you may be tempted to brush past it online or on DVD. Yet, the film’s leads, Robert Townsend and Sali Richardson-Whitfield, take the content and turn it into a romantic comedy that’s hard to resist.

Coach Banks (Robert Townsend) is known as the “general amongst generals” in high school basketball. He has six championships under his leadership and now he has upcoming star Justice McCoy (Daniel Yorel Cooper) on his team. Justice, however, comes with a hefty price tag in the form of his strong-willed mother Talisa (Sali Richardson-Whitfield). 

The movie plays out over the course of Justice’s senior year. Coach Banks has an opportunity to coach in the NCAA if he can get Justice to sign to a certain team. With his mother in the way, Coach Banks tries to work his angles to remove her. Talisa’s intelligence and love for both the game of basketball and her children proves to be more than he was expecting as a genuine relationship blossoms. 

The film’s major flaw is that the supporting players are only there as vehicles to keep Banks and Talisa’s story going, coming in and out conveniently. Basketball takes backseat to the driving romance. The majority of the film is off the court, and the camera stays on sticks when it’s on the court instead of moving around with the action. You really have to trust that the basketball team is as good as they say it is, because the film edits heavily around games. So don’t look for incredible action in the form of basketball.

That being said, the romantic story off the court makes up for what it lacks on the court. The chemistry between Townsend and Richardson-Whitfield is palpable and the butterflies of falling in love are equally tangible in the frame. In typical Townsend fashion, the film hits on poignant familial themes like blended families, fathers being present in their child’s lives, and watching what your kids listen to. The moments are real and bring heartfelt social commentary to the film. 

Robert Townsend brings years of experience to the role, giving Coach Banks an arrogant external shell and vulnerable interior needed for the role. Sali Richardson-Whitfield’s performance made me look up her IMDB page to find out what else she’s been in! (I found out it’s mostly television, which I plan to watch just to see her performances.) Her character is ferocious and a moral center as a single mother providing for and looking after her four children. She brings a fully fleshed out character to every frame she’s in. 

“Playin’ For Love” is an unexpected, welcomed surprise for a date night streaming movie or Redbox pickup. Sure, there are elements of cheese to it, but the backbone of the film is entertaining and I had a few good laughs.

The film is available online and DVD Feb. 9th!

Rating: C+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Middleburg Film Fest '15: "Hitchcock/Truffaut" Review

Alfred Hitchcock is a legend in film, but he didn’t start out that way. In fact, not all of his “classic” films that we think of today were box office hits. It was after French director, Francois Truffaut penned the book Hitchcock/Truffaut that his work as an auteur was appreciated on a deeper level. Unfortunately, the film “Hitchcock/Truffaut” doesn’t do much to expand what fans already know from the book.

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Part of the issue with the film is that it’s more of a gushing text message than a love letter to the book/meeting of Hitchcock and Truffaut. Director Kent Jones interviews numerous directors (Martin Scorcese, David Fincher, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, and more) to have them weigh in on Hitchcock’s work as highlighted in the book. In short, it’s a fanboy geek out session which is great for the fan, members of the film community, or newcomers to Hitchcock’s work.

Some of the nice touches of the film come in seeing the photos from Hitchcock and Truffaut’s meeting, hearing some of the audio recording of the interviews, and the way Jones brings them together with footage from the films. It’s as though Hitchcock and Truffaut become one of the talking heads commenting on the film’s footage we’re seeing within the documentary. The voices of the past become voices of the present under Rachel Reichman’s editing.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut” is a must see for any cinemaphile, filmmaker, and Hitchcock fan. If you’re looking for a serious education on the book, their meeting, and their work, the film leaves much to be desired. A love letter would have been nice, but I guess these days a quick text will have to suffice!

Grade: B-

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Spooky Movie Fest '15: "They Look Like People" Review

Are humans really being taken over by demons cloaked as humans in this cinematic world? It’s hard to say what’s real and what’s not in writer/director Perry Blackshear’s “They Look Like People”. The film sucks you in with its direction and performances because on this psycho paranoia train, you can either get on or get left at the station.

Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) shows up on the doorstep of his old friend Christian’s (Evan Dumouchel) NYC home. The two haven’t spoken in years, but were very close at one point. Close enough that Christian is willing to let Wyatt tag along on his date with his boss, Mara (Margaret Ying Drake). The date goes wrong for all the reasons you wouldn’t think, as Mara’s friend has slipped on the sidewalk before they meet. This makes for a night in the emergency room for the trio, and a newly formed bond to boot.

Wyatt tells Christian that he plans to move on, but Christian insists he stay for a while.
Even though they haven’t kept up with each other we find they share a couple similarities. They both have recently had a breakup with their longtime girlfriend. They both hear voices speaking to them. While Evan listens to self-empowerment albums, Wyatt listens to a voice on the phone that tells him about the impending war that’s coming. The phone voice describes invasion of body snatcher-like creatures that look like people, but have already infiltrated the world.

As Wyatt begins preparing for the battle by stockpiling an arsenal in Christian’s basement, the paranoia of the film really takes off. Blackshear achieves this on two fronts. Aurally he gets into the viewer’s mind with the voices that play in narration. Christian’s self-empowerment voice is soft, soothing, and disarming. Wyatt hears from two different voices; one male voice that is older and authoritative, and one female voice that sounds genuine and at times worried. The combination of the voices talking to the main characters non-diegetically (off screen), becomes just as swaying for the viewer in forming opinions of what’s real and what’s not.

The other weapon in Blackshear’s arsenal is the film’s editing, which he did himself. The film hard cuts forward in time throughout its scenes. This compression of time keeps the audience’s attention as they are forced to piece together what to take away from the scene, and wonder if anything was left out. It’s easy to follow, but the technique slowly seeps into the mind and causes a bit of uneasiness.

“They Look Like People” is definitely a pot that simmers slowly throughout its running time and leads to a climactic boil that pays off. With a strong direction from Blackshear and equally natural performances from its actors, the film makes you want to turn on thehouse lights in the theater and take a second look at the person next to you.

Rating: B+


Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Spooky Movie Fest '15: "Bite" Review

If you’re a fan of gore, “Bite” has more than a mouthful. Director Chad Archibald has concocted a film that with all its slimy ugliness, is beautiful to look at. However, its story is about as shallow as an episode of the Kardashians.

Bachelorette Casey (Elma Begovic) goes to Costa Rica with her friends to celebrate before her wedding. While there, she’s bitten by a mysterious bug. Upon returning home, she gets cold feet and wants to call off the wedding. Before she can however, she starts exhibiting signs of a major infection, or something worse.

“Bite” makes an admirable attempt to mix found footage with straight narrative at the out start. While giving it’s viewer context to Casey’s trip to Costa Rica, it becomes distracting as Casey consults the footage on her laptop to retrace her steps in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, like many other plot points, even that vice quickly fizzles out and we’re left with watching Casey turn into a human bug through a thinly stitched storyline.

Where “Bite” falls short is that it soars in visual ideas, but lacks a plot. It’s not long before you abandon the idea of a genuine story and accept that you’re watching Casey transform into a bug. Characters make unrealistic decisions, ignoring blatantly obvious signs of abnormal behavior to move the story forward, quickly turning it into a film that you yell at rather than scream from.

The film’s secret weapon is its crew. Cinematographer Jeff Maher paints exquisitely with light in each frame. Jason Derushie’s special effects makeup is incredible. The bug bite looks disgustingly real, and the sound design supplements it so well. As Casey transforms, the makeup does too, heightening the intensity of the bizarre happening in her life. In fact, the makeup and set design become the star of the film. As days go by, Casey’s apartment is taken over by ooze, eggs, and a stench that I’m sure viewers will be happy they won’t have to smell. The aesthetics of the film sells every frame of it.

“Bite” certainly is an acquired taste. It may be great for true horror/gore fans. It’s been known to make some viewers faint and puke as it makes its’ festival rounds. Whether you enjoy it or not, it’s bound to sting in some way.

Rating: C-


Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"The Second Mother" Review: A Beautiful Comedy Of Manners

A film like “The Second Mother” is an arthouse gem! You can be thoroughly entertained by the beautiful story, and dig into the social commentary all at the same time. It’s a comedy of manners that speaks to class boundaries that can mold someone’s character and stir an inner desire to break through them.  

Val (Regina Case) is an old school, by the book, live-in housekeeper who takes pride in her work. She missed out on much of her daughter Jessica’s (Camila Mardila) life by working for her employers, Barbara (Karine Teles) and Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli). Their teenage son, Fabhino (Michael Joelsas), filled the void of hands on motherhood for Val as she spent ten years practically raising him.

When Jessica has the opportunity to study in Sao Paulo, Val invites her to stay with her, with permission from her employers. It’s in Jessica’s entrance to the household that the boundaries between Val and the family she works for become apparent. Jessica is treated with respect as an honored guest in the home. Regardless of her daughter’s fresh arrival, Val has to fetch water, clear the table, and continue to fulfill her obligations as the housekeeper.

In fact, Val is treated like a remote control throughout the film, called upon when needed and tossed aside for later when she’s not. In seeing her mother treated this way, Jessica looks at her with disdain rather than love. She can’t understand why Val submits to being treated as a “second class citizen”. On top of the fact that she already feels like her mother abandoned her, Jessica refuses to subject herself to the unspoken rules of being in the home. A pool is just a pool to Jessica, but to Val it’s her employer’s pool and she can’t go in.

The light-hearted humor is what makes the film fun to watch, and Regina Case’s performance is the driving force behind it. You can tell that Val keeps her wild child locked away due to years of suppressing her desires to get the job done, but certain scenes that let her come out of character give us a glimpse at what she feels inside. Whether she’s hiding behind the kitchen door to eavesdrop on Barbara and Carlos’s conversation with Fabhino, applying a bit of Barbara’s lotion in secret, or hiding Fabhino’s weed for him, Val is more than just the help.

Framing is everything in this film! Not a shot was taken without director Anna Muylaert’s direction. The camera stays locked down in the beginning of the film with no pans. Every shot is a rigid frame, much like Val’s life. She shoots from the kitchen, into the family dining area, allowing us to see a sliver of Barbara sitting at the table. It’s the visual inaccessibility of the frame that supplements the lack of access that Val has within the home. When Jessica arrives at the house, the camera is still selective as to what it captures, but starts moving within scenes and it continues to be less stifling through the end of the film as Val starts to take of some of the chains in her life. These subtle camera decisions are what makes the film worth multiple viewings.

“The Second Mother” is a foreign film but a universal story. It’s about class, forgiveness, and the different types of families that can exist. It’s certainly award worthy, and solid entertainment!

Rating: A

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

DC Shorts '15: "The Red Thunder" Review

If ever there was a short that should be made into a TV series pilot at the very least, “The Red Thunder” is certainly one. It’s an appetizer that leaves you wanting the main course. In an age where the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands from the big screen to the small screen, co-writer/director Alvaro Ron offers us what looks like an original, unlikely hero.

Sarah (Allie Grant) is a nerdy teenager with an uptight, controlling mother (Karen Strassman). At least it seems that way to Sarah. After getting asked out by Danny (Miles Heizer), Sarah decides she needs to use her mom’s car. Little does she know, her mom may not be as bad as she thought!

With solid performances from its cast, “The Red Thunder” gives just the right amount of entertainment and special effects that would make a viewer want to see more backstory and what will happen to the mother/daughter dynamic after Sarah’s night out. Its mix of quirky comedy, action, and a dash of romantic interests make it fit for say, the CW line up. Whatever happens with it, it’s a short super hero fans shouldn’t miss!

http://festival.dcshorts.com/films/red-thunder/

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Five Star" Review

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and according to writer/director Keith Miller’s Five Star, neither is getting into a gang. While using non-actors in a film can typically be a major success or massive fail, it certainly helps to have its main character, Primo (James Grant), a real Blood gang member both in and out of the movie. In this film, the authenticity of the non-actors’ work and the camera’s ever roving eye make for a unique take on crime genre films that soars.

John (John Diaz) lost his father recently to a stray bullet, or at least that’s what everyone says.  His father was a well respected gang member in his New York community.  His protege, Primo, takes John under his wing out of respect for John’s father and as a chance to help mold John.  As Primo shows John the ropes, he makes it quite clear that if he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps the line between being a boy and being a man (gang life) is one that you can’t run back behind. As John witness the power and confidence of Primo, he is also seduced by the lure of quick cash.

As the film moves forward, two stories unfold. We get a glimpse at Primo the Five Star leader of the community gangs, who rules with an iron fist and draws respect from fear.  We also see Primo the father.  It is in between this dichotomy that we see both strength and vulnerability in Primo.  Day-to-day moments like cooking food for the family or simply telling his daughter to behave juxtapose with brutally beating someone for not having his money, creating a character that you can both love and hate. At the same time you see John in his daily life. Who in essence is just a teenage kid with a girlfriend, a widowed mother he wants to take care of, struggling with the impact of not knowing his father except through second hand accounts.

The beautiful day-to-day moments don’t just take place with Primo, but with other characters in the film as well.  For instance, as John takes steps closer to gang life, he and his mother (Wanda Nobles Colon) have what feels like an unscripted conversation about why she doesn’t want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps.  The conversation is so genuine that the film feels more like a documentary than a narrative feature.

Keith Miller lets scenes play out and breathe, putting the handheld camera to use to create a documentary feel. He captures things not typically on screen in crime films, but are apart of the complexity of living a dangerous life, and perhaps life in general. Miller edits the film as well, and it’s top notch. With aural intros, the scenes blend together and push the story forward at a purposeful pace that leads its viewer. Miller allows you to get caught up in the little moments of the character’s lives, building up to a pins and needles climax.

Five Star is a worthy indie intro in the crime genre.  It slowly builds, and snowballs, into an earned pay off. Five Star is out on DVD September 1st and is definitely worth the view!

Rating: A

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Ten Thousand Saints" Review

It seems that Ethan Hawke not only likes coming of age films, but he’s really good at the role of the imperfect father. Ten Thousand Saints is no Boyhood but it gives us a look in to the life of an American teenager in the late 1980’s in New York’s East Village. Sometimes a slice of life movie is just what you need to learn a larger life lesson. Unfortunately, this one isn’t it.

Jude (Asa Butterfield) likes to get high with his buddy Teddy (Avan Jogia). After one fateful night, in which Teddy gets Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld) pregnant and huffs freon to death, Jude is dramatically shaken to his core by the loss of his friend. To get a fresh start, Jude moves in with his father, Les (Ethan Hawke), a pot dealing squatter.

As the story moves forward, Eliza winds up leaning on Jude and Les (her mother’s boyfriend) to help deal with the pregnancy under her mom’s nose. Eventually Johnny (Emile Hirsch), Teddy’s older brother who is a Krishna punk rocker, steps in to fill his borther’s place in Eliza’s life. As Eliza goes on tour with Johnny’s band, Jude is along for the ride too. In fact, everything seems to happen around Jude as the silent observer throughout the rest of the movie after the freon incident.

The film’s fault is its main character. Jude just seems to blow with the wind. We know he has a thing for Eliza, but he keeps himself in the friend zone. He’s probably the better guy for her, but he let’s Teddy and Johnny step up to the plate. He has years of anger built up toward his father, but he let’s go of it overnight when Les sneaks back into Jude’s life via the window after hearing of Teddy’s death. With a passive protagonist, it’s hard to really invest in the journey the film wants to take you on.

It’s not that the ensemble cast of Ten Thousand Saints didn’t give it a good effort. They tried, and Ethan Hawke definitely succeeded in giving a stand out performance. Some books just don’t make good adaptations to the big screen.

Rating: D+

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"The Mama Sherpas" Review

There are days and moments in our lives that we’ll never forget, whether good or bad. The day that you give birth (or for partners, when your child is born) is certainly one of those unforgettable moments that you want to be as close to perfect as humanly possible. Yet, for a growing number of women in America their extraordinary day has been scarred by poor bedside manner and/or a push for caesarean (c-section) births, which accounts for 32.7% of births in the United States. From executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, “The Mama Sherpas” takes a look at midwives and their collaboration with hospitals as a solution to this problem.

A midwife is a trained professional with expertise in supporting women to maintain healthy pregnancies and have optimal births and recoveries during the postpartum period. The documentary focuses on eight different women’s voyage to giving birth, spread across four institutions that provide collaborative care between physicians and midwives. We follow the patient and midwives at each institution to get a feel of the process for all involved.       

It’s evident throughout the film that midwives give a pure, caring touch to the women they support from pregnancy past birth. Each interaction that takes place on screen between midwives and their patients has the amount of encouragement, love, and aid that you would expect from someone in your immediate family. While natural birth is what midwives hope to achieve, and the majority of outcomes in the film, we’re also able to see an example of a midwife helping during a c-section. 

At times, the features of different births become repetitive rather than building to a stereotypical fiery conclusion. In fact, there is no real call to action by the end of the film. Instead, the audience is left with a number of facts and what was put before them on the screen. Perhaps that’s the point. The documentary serves as a glimpse at successful midwife collaborations with hospitals to offer its viewers exposure to an alternative.

There is a certain awareness and care that permeates each frame from the film’s director, Brigid Maher. Inspired out of her successful natural birth after c-section, the documentary is personal. Nothing about the film feels rushed or forced. Maher controls the camera with a less is more approach throughout clinical visits and birth scenes. She shows just enough for us to know what’s happening in a scene, but not enough to throw your attention off of the beauty of birth. With the camera’s sensitive eye and the midwives’ sensitive approach, the combination makes for a natural, respectful observation of different women’s journey.

In a day and age where we consume information online or through documentaries, “The Mama Sherpas” is an intimate tale that provides a glimpse at an alternative to the birthing process. Like many other events in life, bringing a child into the world can be daunting if you’re not educated on all aspects of it. This film serves as a tool that should go in every expectant mother’s toolbox right beside What To Expect When You’re Expecting.

Rating: B

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Call Me Lucky" Review

“Call Me Lucky” is one of the most powerful documentaries to come out this year! Director Bobcat Goldthwait’s gripping portrait of comedy legend Barry Crimmins is a must see! It’s impossible to sit through the film without laughing, crying and being disturbed in your soul on a subject, child abuse/pornography, that is talked around but not talked about in our culture.

Barry Crimmins was a beer-drinking, cigarette smoking, stand up comedian who gained notoriety in the 1980s. He founded two comedy clubs, The Ding Ho and Stitches, during that time. He is also credited with helping comedians like Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Dennis Leary, Bobcat Goldthwait and more get their careers going.

The film begins with friends and family re-capping Barry’s early life and start as a comedian. His satirical comedy routines focused on political and social change and were unique for its time. The interviewees highlight his impact on the industry with a slow build up to the viewer actually seeing the now secluded, simple living, 60 year old Crimmins. 

The emotional pendulum swing comes right in the middle of the film as Crimmins describes what happened to him as a child. From there, the tone of the film becomes serious as a historical drama unfolds. It turns into a David vs. Goliath battle for Crimmins as he eventually brings AOL to the senate an attempt to wipe child pornography off of the then burgeoning online chat room giant in the 90's. From there, we see the evidence of transformation and healing in Crimmins life. Crimmins interviews, like his comedy, are honest, genuine and fiery at times. 

Cinematographer Bradley Stonesifer masterfully paints with light throughout the film. The beauty of the image gives contrast to the ugliness of the subject of child abuse. The juxtaposition helps to digest the film more than if it were shot with moody lighting.

Goldthwait’s love for Crimmins is evident in every frame that comes together to weave this documentary into a portrait of a man who used his pain and scars as fuel to help others. He keeps a perfect balance of comedy and light-heartedness when needed, and raw emotional honesty through interviews with friends, family, and Barry himself. His use of the frame speaks volumes in shots, like one of the basement where Barry was raped as a child only lit from upstairs. It is quite apparent that there was a director behind the lens on this film and the precision used to tell the story with images, historical footage, interviews and all the other elements needed to create a documentary resounds from the first frame to the last.

In truth, Goldthwait’s enormous respect and love for Crimmins may have blinded him as the film could be cut down to a 90 minute running time. Goldthwait has Crimmins revisit his childhood home and the basement where he was raped near the end of the film. This could have been done for Crimmins’ healing, preserved for him, but it was not necessary for the story arch of the film, which this critic believes would have been more powerful without the pit stop.

Regardless of the overt bow from Goldthwait to Crimmins, “Call Me Lucky” is more than a portrait of Barry Crimmins. It’s a salute to his life as a comedian and an activist. The film, like its subject, is bold enough to speak clearly to the soul of humanity and call out its vile side with ferocious conviction at the same time. Now playing in limited release!

Rating: A

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Capital C" Review

The first thing that stands out in “Capital C” is its cinematography and camerawork. With well placed framing for interviews, and pre-calculated set up sequences, it’s easy to get visually engaged. The documentary originated as a crowdfunded film on Kickstarter itself, and thus it’s fitting that it covers the adventures of crowdfunding. As a visually stimulating and technically sound film, the only question is, does it cover the crowdfunding phenomenon just as well?

“Capital C” follows Zach Crain, the maker of the Freaker USA, a one-size-fits-all koozie company; Jackson Robinson, an artist drawing the entire deck of the Federal 52 poker cards; and Brian Fargo, the developer of a video game called "Wasteland 2". While the risk to start their own company seems big for Zach and Jackson, Brian seems to be branching out after an already successful career.  

The issue with the film, is that each character has great success with their crowdfunding campaign, reaching their goals quickly. So the inherent tension of the drawn out journey of seeing their campaign reach its goal, or the heart-wrenching agony of not making the goal is lost in the film. The film paints a picture of small business entrepreneurs having huge success in crowdfunding, while 60% of Kickstarter (just one platform for crowdfunding) projects are not funded. Not being able to follow someone who puts everything on the line, only to come up short gives the illusion that everything is awesome in the world of crowdfunding. We get a brief mention of crowdfunding failure in a couple of interviews but as quickly as it’s mentioned it’s back to the mirage.

The film also feels stretched at times to get to its 86 minute running time. For example, we learn about Freaker USA’s opportunity to go on Shark Tank and then we're informed what the show is about three times as Zach defines the show to a family member, to the camera in a one on one, and his business partner talks about it again. The small repetitions in theme or information cause you too look at your watch rather than get lost in the film.

Writer/Director team Timon Birkhofer and Jorg Kundinger do a great job of making you fall in love with Zach (who is a character on any given day) and Jackson’s family. Zach’s confidence and loving spirit oozes off the screen and makes it easy to support him. The struggle for Jackson to keep his day job, while fulfilling his crowdfunding obligations can be boiled down to the universal experience of stretching yourself to provide for your family. They also cover the tension that the campaign created between Jackson and his wife as she deals with their two small children on her own so that he can work. So when Jackson’s story wraps up with an emotionally moving moment, it’s earned.

“Capital C” is a testament as to why indie filmmakers should be supported on crowdfunding platforms. Birkhofer and Kundinger delivered on a completed film that looks great and you can tell they invested lots of time and thought into making. It comes up short however, in giving a well rounded experience of crowdfunding which would have been more interesting than three success stories. While it's not perfect, "Capital C" is a solid prototype for the filmmakers to get feature film experience and learn from their directorial debut, which may not have been afforded to them without the power of the crowd!

In theaters and on demand now!

Rating: C

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"The Trouble With The Truth": An Indie Gem

Similar to “My Dinner with Andre” and Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, “The Trouble with The Truth” hinges on a conversation between its main characters. Real time conversational movies are difficult to master because the dialogue and actors who deliver it have to be on point. It lives or dies with both components. Writer/director Jim Hemphill, however, has the perfect storm in this romantic indie drama.

Robert (John Shea) and Emily (Lea Thompson) were married for 14 years before they divorced. Now, their daughter Jenny (Danielle Harris) is engaged to be married and as most marriages do, it brings her parents together. After receiving a call from Robert, Emily agrees to meet him for dinner during her next trip to LA.

The two make small talk about Emily’s work as a novelist and Robert’s career as a musician at the bar before settling upstairs for dinner. The meat and potatoes (excuse the pun) of the film takes place at the dinner table. The two discuss their relationship, what went wrong, regrets, and their present relationships in one long conversation.

Hemphill’s dialogue is as close to perfect as scripted dialogue can be in a film like this! As the two talk, they dance around what they truly want to say at times and get to the point at others. This game of cat and mouse constantly throws logs and breathes life onto their old flame, building the romance of the drama. 

The chemistry between Shea and Thompson is indisputable! As the conversation continues, the underlying attraction between the two grows as well. The simultaneous maturity of the actors (in real life) and character’s (on screen) wisdom spills out into their dialogue and acting nuances, creating a sexy concoction of suspense. Both actors connect with their characters in such a way that makes you want to continue eavesdropping for the rest of the 96 minute film!  

Hemphill’s “Truth” rings true indeed. Every moment feels authentic, and is sprinkled with the right amount of humor to break up the serious tone. The build up to the finish line makes for a satisfying conclusion.The result is a romantic indie drama that’s worth the view and worthy of study for the low budget filmmaker! 

Rating: A

Purchase the film on iTunes:

Check out my interview w/ writer/director Jim Hemphill:

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Bound to Vengeance" Review

“Bound to Vengeance” is the definition of an indie thriller. In all honesty the movie asks for you to suspend your disbelief from the beginning to the end and there are a few predictable plot points. However, the style, minor twists, and willingness to play with the medium makes it bearable to watch as an average viewer and inspiring for any up and coming indie filmmaker. 

Eve (Tina Ivlev) has been held captive in the highly secured basement of a sexual predator named Phil (Richard Tyson). We don’t know how long she’s been there, but the film picks up moments before her escape. Eve is smart, and it seems she’s thought through how to subdue her captor but it’s apparent that she doesn’t know where she is as she exits the house at dusk. With the keys to the only vehicle outside missing, she reenters the place that she knows.

As she rummages through the house, she comes across polaroids of other young girls with numbers by them- including her own. Eve creates a makeshift dog pole catcher with a shower rod and telephone line and uses it to keep Phil at bay as they begin an overnight journey to free the rest of the girls from the polaroids. Of course, this is where the movie derails logically. Why doesn’t she just drive off and call the police? What if Phil has a trap ready for her at another house? If you can swerve around those major plot holes, and accept the movie for what it is, you will be drawn in to Eve’s journey.

With each house she visits and girl she interacts with, Eve learns something different. There’s no doubt that there’s something about Eve that makes her an awesome heroine. With each stop she puts together the pieces of the puzzle of her kidnapping and so many other girls, while getting some revenge along the way. 

Ivlev takes the weight of the movie and carries it in a worthy manner as the lead. She plays Eve with enough gravity to be feared and nuance to be believable. Based on his work in this film, I’m curious to see director Jose Manuel Craviato’s native language films. Craviato plays with the medium in a way that big budget movies rarely do. In one scene, Eve searches for the end of a land line phone, tugging on the chord. With each tug, the camera moves, until it falls to the floor as Eve rushes over to it. This small moment in the film is one of many that shows Craviato’s skill regardless of the script. The cinematography by Byron Werner is also worth a mention as he paints with reds and greens throughout the film, helping to support the repulsive nature of sex trafficking.

While it showed potential for being a revenge thriller with a great female lead, it falls short of the mark. “Bound to Vengeance” is a good choice for Netflix or Redbox.  

Rating: C-


Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

AFI Docs '15: "The Three Hikers"

Much like 2014’s hit “Citizen Four”, “The Three Hikers” informs us of a story that received national attention. While most of us remember the story of three American hikers- Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal- who were detained against their will in July 2009, we don’t know the story from an insider’s perspective. The documentary gives us an intimate portrayal of the journey of the families of the political prisoners.

On July 31, 2009 Iranian border guards took Sarah, Shane and Josh into custody for crossing into Iran while hiking near the border. As the film begins we never see the three in an interview setup, but hear them in voiceover with reenactments visually detailing what happened. Occasionally we see footage taken by the hikers in the days leading up to being detained. The parallel story that runs is the families’ reaction to the news of their child/brother/sister being detained, drawing us in to the conflict and keeping us on pins and needles even though we know the outcome.

In truth, “The Three Mothers” may be a better title for the film because the story follows their fight to free their children. It’s in their story that the universal truth of the impact that a mother’s love can have on a person, situation, event, and beyond is told!  The emotional journey is arduous, beautiful, and universally understood. The film also shows other family members (including Sarah after she was freed) who were truly integral in fighting for the hikers’ release. 

Writer/director Natalie Avital strays away from the typical talking head set up usually seen in documentaries and keeps it intimate by getting family member’s thoughts on the go or in their homes. Going against having family members constantly give feedback to the camera in a controlled environment allows viewers to get a fly on the wall view that feels more personal rather than clinical. Avital obviously had the families’ confidence and trust as evident by the openness of each person who gave an interview.

Many documentaries end after a climactic event, and in this case it’s the release of Shane and Josh. In fact, the emotional reunion of them with their families would leave viewers on a high note by itself in which we can assume they lived “happily ever after”. Yet Avital continued to capture their lives after their release showing Shane and Sarah’s marriage, Josh becoming a father, and the group’s pursuit of advocacy. By taking the film a step further, it answers the "what happened?" after their release and gives closure to the tumultuous part of their lives but instills the hope and power the hikers have from bouncing back from it.

The film has its slow moments and the reenactments feel rushed and disconnected from the film at times, but overall it’s a solid documentary. There’s no question that the hikers and their families are closer because of this traumatic period in their lives. For all involved, they answered the question of: how far would you go to save a loved one? 

Rating: B

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Our City Festival '15: "Unsettled" Review

If your style of documentaries are the ones that make you hold your breath as you learn new information, “Unsettled” is a terrific short for you. With the cost of living in Washington, DC increasing, the number of homeless and financially stretched families ticks up too. The film, created by the 2014 Institute for Documentary Filmmaking at George Washington University, puts a face with the numbers and you’re likely to remember them long after the credits roll. 

The opening frame of the doc is on a broken rearview mirror, perhaps symbolic of a broken past. The voice of Ken Early is heard as he says “You know they always say the first year of your marriage is the toughest. I don’t think it can get no tougher than this!” Ken laughs between and after his statements as his wife, Naila, looks at him with a smirk of agreement. Ken’s laughter doesn’t come from a place of fun, but of pain. As he goes on to explain that the car they are sitting in was their home for four months. The rawness of the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. 

The doc runs a parallel story of Nkechi Feaster, a hard working woman whose past lay offs (three in four years) have kept her looking for financial peace and stability. She has been homeless before, and the possibility of once again being homeless is real as the job she is currently working is coming to an end. Nkechi explains that the American Dream has eluded her even though she did everything the formula said she should by getting good grades in school and getting a job. 

As the two women try to raise awareness of the plight of DC’s homeless, the toll of the struggle becomes evident in a couple heart-wrenching scenes. While the film doesn’t have a call to action at the end, it’s guaranteed to touch anyone who watches it, and hopefully spur someone to get involved. “Unsettled” plays saturday June 6th during the OUR SOUL film screening at Geothe Institut.

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Our City Festival '15: "Out of the Basement"

“Out of the Basement” is the indie film that you want to stumble upon at a film festival. Directed by Natalie Avery and Kyle Joseph Centers, the film on the surface is an American Dream, underdog story. In reality, it’s a well constructed story about family bonds and how love can push you to accomplish your dreams or help see others accomplish their own.

We’re introduced to Greg Newby, a DC native and amateur boxer who wants to go pro. He works at his grandfather’s corner store while training. His goal is to use boxing to help himself become financially stable and perhaps financially independent in order to take care of his daughter. As we get to know Greg and see him hard at work, we also learn about his past and how it affects his present.

The key to the film is the relationship between the directors and Greg’s family. It’s obvious that the family trusted the directors, and therefore were honest and open with their lives. Greg’s father talks about his struggle to raise Greg. Greg’s grandmother talks about the fact that someone has always been in his corner, and how she thinks that affects his work ethic. It’s the honest moments in this short film that make it intimate and engaging. The construction of the short doc is smooth, seamless, and welcomes you in to the lives of the tight knit family with pro boxing dreams.

If you’re looking for an entertaining, character driven short that packs a punch than check out “Out of the Basement”. The film plays during the OUR HEART film screening at the Our City Festival this Saturday, June 7th at the Goethe Institut.

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.